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Some Carthage Hospital employee pensions may be in jeopardy, nurses union says

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CARTHAGE — Pensions for some Carthage Area Hospital employees could be in jeopardy, according to a nurses union.

Representatives of the 57 nurses employed there are speaking out about that, during a time when the New York State Nurses Association and hospital management have been in contract negotiations.

According to a recent union news release, registered nurses at the hospital “fear that gross mismanagement of hospital funding has put their retirement savings in jeopardy, as management has not made payments to the nurses’ pension fund since April 2012 and it is now $1 million past due.”

Erin Silk, the association’s associate director of communications, confirmed Friday that no retired nurses have seen their pensions affected.

According to Jefferson County records, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a federal government agency that “protects the retirement incomes” of Americans, filed notices of liens for real property Dec. 4 for $1,152,893 against the hospital; Meadowbrook Terrace, the hospital’s 60-bed assisted-living facility on Cole Road in the town of Champion, and Carthage Area Hospital Foundation. Payment was due June 15.

Marc Hopkins, spokesman for the pension agency, said the money was owed “for obligations associated with the Carthage Area Hospital Employees Pension Plan.”

“This is not unique to Carthage Area Hospital,” he said. “Such liens occur automatically when a plan sponsor misses contributions of more than a million dollars.”

Notices of liens for personal property were filed with the state Department of State, he said.

It was unclear Friday how many of the hospital’s 451 employees could be affected by the pension matter. However, Service Employees International Union Local 1199 said none of its 190 members is affected because payments to their pension fund are current.

“They aren’t delinquent,” said Kathleen M. Tucker, vice president of SEIU Local 1199, which represents licensed practical nurses, nurse’s aides, technicians and clerical, dietary and maintenance workers.

Carthage Area Hospital officials have been mum on the pension payment matter and on contract negotiations with the registered nurses since the hospital issued a general news release Thursday. Attempts to reach hospital officials before 4:30 p.m. Friday were unsuccessful, as emails and telephone calls were not returned.

The hospital and the New York State Nurses Association have been in contract negotiations since May. According to the association’s news release, “management has rejected several proposals, including proposals for increased staffing and maintaining the health benefits that help recruit and retain the best nurses to work at the hospital.”

In the hospital’s news release, however, officials said that if an agreement cannot be reached in the near future, “the hospital will begin to evaluate the restructuring of programs and services, which potentially could result in reductions in services and staff.”

The hospital has already reduced its workforce within the past three months. Earlier last year, the hospital had 480 employees, but a systemwide workforce reduction plan that took place in the fall reduced the staff by 29, to a total of 451. That plan alone will save the hospital $144,000 per month, including salaries, benefits and other costs.

The hospital’s recent statement about potential staff reductions didn’t sit well with Ms. Silk.

“It is unconscionable for the CEO of Carthage to threaten to cut care for our patients as a negotiating tactic,” she said. “We will continue to put patient care first, and we hope that management will, too. Carthage nurses have shown our commitment to the community by providing the very best care throughout good times and bad at the hospital.”

The nurses association will hold an informational picket from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Monday on Hospital Drive in front of Carthage Area Hospital, 1001 West St.

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